Joshua Tree National Park | Hiking the World (2023)

Declared a national monument in 1936 and re-designated as a national park in 1994, Joshua Tree National Park covers two distinct deserts: the Mojave and Sonoran. The two are quite distinctively different landscapes, with the Mojave section in the western half of the park being above 3,000 feet, and featuring giant branching yuccas, sandy plains and enormous massive granite monoliths. The Sonoran Desert or “low desert” to the centre and east of the park is drier, sparser and more forbidding. The Little San Bernardino Mountains traverse the southwest edge of the park. Despite (or perhaps because of) the few facilities and services, Joshua Tree attracts nearly 3 million visitors annually.

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From the south end of the park, the Pinto Basin Trail heads up from Route 10 and passes Cottonwood Visitor Centre, the southern entrance station where you buy an entry pass and get a map (there is no food or drinks sold here).

There are not as many signposted attraction in the south of the park. One of the first stops is the Cholla Cactus Garden, where there is a very short walk through a dense patch of the unique teddybear cholla. The area is a transition zone between the Colorado and Mohave Deserts where more water supports this incredibly dense patch of cholla cacti.

Another interesting plant which grows in the southern section of the park is the ocotillo plant, a semi-succulent indigenous to the Sonoran Desert, Chihuahuan Desert and Colorado Desert. It looks spiky from a distance, but when you get close the branches are covered in small, soft leaves.

(Video) Joshua Tree National Park

Silver Bell Mine was operational for almost 40 years, with gold being mined in the 1930s, lead in the 1940s and copper in the 1950s until production ceased in 1962. A 1.3mi / 2.1km trail takes you up to the remains of the tipples, gigantic ore bins that held and fed rock to a stamp battery (mill) that crushed the ore.

Continuing north through the park, there’s a number of granite rock formations that can be seen from the road – inselbergs formed by weathering of the granite bedrock millions of years ago. There’s also an increasing number of Joshua Trees or Yucca brevifolia – after which the park is named (rather obviously!). These trees grow mostly in the Mojave Desert between 1,300 and 5,900 feet (400 to 1,800m) elevation, and are also found northeast of Kingman (AZ) in Mohave County; and along the US 93 between Wickenburg and Wikieup. The tree was though to have been named by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century, and used the tree to guide them through the desert

Near the middle of the park is the short hike to Arch Rock, a short walk walk to a natural arch and a heart-shaped rock formation.

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(Video) TOP 10 PLACES TO SEE IN JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA

Nearby is Split Rock, which is down an unsealed side road and marks the start of a 2mi / 3.2km loop hike. At the beginning of the trail is a large cave shelter, used for thousands of years by native Americans. The earliest known residents of the land in and around what is now Joshua Tree National Park were the people of the Pinto Culture, who lived and hunted here between 8000 and 4000 BCE.

A short distance along the main road is Skull Rock, another distinctive rock formation – it’s right next to the road and one of the most popular and busiest spots in the park.

The density and size of the Joshua Trees seems gradually increases as you head north through the park… Surrounded by tall Joshua Trees, the Hall of Horrors is a collection of enormous boulders, amongst which are two narrow slot canyons. It’s a popular spot for rock climbing as well as hiking.

A short detour down a side road is Barker Dam, where there is a short and popular hike. Although often dry at this time of the year, there’s water in the reservoir when we visit in October – and the trail passes an interesting native American petroglyph site.

(Video) 5 Easy Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park 4K \\ Vlog 10

Barker Dam and Hidden Valley are the last signposted features at the north-western end of the park before the West Entrance Gate. Beyond the entrance station is the town of Joshua Tree.

Hiking in Joshua Tree

There are about 30 hiking trails in Joshua Tree; most are fairly short, but there are a few longer ones (all are day-walks, with only the 35 mile (56km) California Riding and Hiking Trail being a multi-day hike).

HikeLengthGradeDescription
Cottonwood Spring0.1 mi / 0.2kmEasyShort walk to fan palm oasis with cottonwood trees. Birds.
Bajada0.25 mi / 0.4kmEasyWalk on a bajada and discover plants of the Colorado Desert
Cholla Cactus Garden0.25 mi / 0.4kmEasyThousands of densely concentrated cholla cactus plants
Keys View0.25 mi / 0.4kmEasySpectacular views of San Andreas Fault and nearby mountains
Cap Rock0.4 mi / 0.6kmEasySee boulder piles, Joshua trees, and other desert plants. Loop walk
Oasis of Mara0.5 mi / 0.8kmEasyExplore a desert oasis. Loop walk
Indian Cove0.6 mi / 1kmEasyDesert plants
Discovery Trail0.7 mi / 1.1kmEasyConnects Skull Rock & Split Rock trails through boulder piles
Hidden Valley1 mi / 1.6kmEasyRock-enclosed valley once used by cattle rustlers
Ryan Ranch1 mi / 1.6kmEasyHike along old ranch road to historic adobe structure
Barker Dam1.1 mi / 1.8kmEasyOut-and-back trail to dam built by early cattle ranchers. Indian rock art
Hi-View1.3 mi / 2.1kmEasy/ModerateRidge with panoramic views. Some steep sections
Arch Rock Trail1.4 mi / 2.1kmEasyLollipop trail to small arch and heart-shaped rock
Skull Rock1.7 mi / 2.7 kmEasyBoulder piles, desert washes and Skull Rock (which is next to road)
Split Rock Loop2.5 mi / 4kmEasy/ModerateLoop hike from Split Rock to Face Rock
Mastodon Peak3 mi / 4.8kmModerateCraggy granite peak and an old gold mine
Fortynine Palms Oasis3 mi / 4.8kmModerateCross ridge with barrel cactus to a fan palm oasis in rocky canyon
Ryan Mountain3 mi / 4.8kmEasy/ModeratePopular hike to summit of Ryan Mountain
Lost Horse Mine4 mi / 6.4kmEasy/ModerateOut-and-back trail to remains of historic gold mine
Pine City4 mi / 6.4kmEasy/ModerateDense stand of junipers and pinyon. Old mining site
West Side Loop4.7 mi / 7.6kmEasy/ModerateRidge and washes west of Black Rock Campground
Lost Horse Loop6.5 mi / 10.5kmModerateExtension of shorter Lost Horse Mine trail
Warren Peak6.3 mi / 10.1kmModeratePanoramic views over western part of Joshua Tree
Panorama Loop6.6mi / 10.6kmEasy/ModerateFollows ridgeline with scenic views, dense Joshua tree forest
Willow Hole7.2 mi / 11.5kmEasy/ModerateTrail along edge of Wonderland of Rocks. Joshua trees, boulders
Lost Palms Oasis7.5 mi / 12kmEasy/ModerateOut-and-back trail to remote fan palm oasis
Boy Scout Trail8 mi / 12.9kmEasy/ModerateOne-way trail deep into the Wonderland of Rocks
California Riding & Hiking Trail35 mi / 56kmModerateOne-way trail from Black Rock Canyon to park North Entrance

If you’ve got limited time, the hikes below can all be done within a day, and visit many of the park’s main attractions.

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Cholla Garden hike

A very short and easy walk through a dense stand of the unusual teddybear cholla that grows in a transition zone between the Colorado and Mohave Deserts.

Distance: 0.4mi / 0.6km loop. Allow 15min for short loop.

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Arch Rock Trail

This short hiking trail leads to two unusual rock formations – a natural rock arch and the distinctively shaped Heart Rock.

Distance: 1.7mi / 2.7km loop. Takes 45min to an hour.

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(Video) Joshua Tree - Top Things To Do Joshua Tree NP - Best of Joshua Tree National Park - Stargazing

Barker Dam

A relatively easy hike that goes to the historic Barker Dam (also known as the Big Horn Dam), and passes a Native American petroglyph site.

Distance: 1.3mi / 2.1km loop. Allow 45min to an hour.

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Ryan Mountain

One of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree National Park, Ryan Mountain delivers spectacular 360-degrees views. The steep trail is best hiked at sunrise or sunset! Avoid this walk during summer.

Distance: 3mi / 4.8km return. Allow 1.5-2 hours.

Getting to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is about 50 miles (80km) east of Palm Springs (the closest airport) or 150 miles 225km) east of Los Angeles. I visited the park on 3-week road trip through south-west USA. There are three entrances to the park: Yucca Valley in the west, Twenty­nine Palms in the north, and Cottonwood Springs in the south. The main Visitor Center is in the nearby town of Joshua Tree.

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Accommodation near Joshua Tree

There is no accommodation (or restaurants and grocery stores) inside Joshua Tree National Park; the closest places to stay are in the towns of Joshua Tree, or Twentynine Palms. For something a little different, the Pioneertown Hotel in historic Pioneertown lets you stay in a living, breathing production set used to film Western movies.

When to visit Joshua Tree

You can visit Joshua Tree National Park year-round – but it’s unpleasantly hot in summer and it can be dangerous undertaking some of the hikes. The best time to visit is considered to be March to May and October to November, when temperatures are lower; winter nights get very cold but daytime termperatures are perfect for hiking.

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More information

  • Recreation.gov – Joshua Tree Pass (or buy an annual America the Beautiful All Parks Pass)
  • Recreation.gov – Joshua Tree Visitor Guide
  • National Geographic – Everything to know about Joshua Tree National Park
  • Amazon – Joshua Tree National Park map (National Geographic: Trails Illustrated Map #226)
  • Joshua Tree National Park map – JPEG (1MB) / PDF (31MB)

Related

FAQs

Why is Joshua Tree so special? ›

It is an important part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem, providing habitat for numerous birds, mammals, insects, and lizards. Joshua tree forests tell a story of survival, resilience, and beauty borne through perseverance. They are the silhouette that reminds those of us who live here that we are home.

What is the Joshua Tree in the Bible? ›

Joshua trees were named for the biblical figure Joshua by 19th-century Mormon settlers who felt the outstretched tree limbs guided them along their westward journey. Joshua trees usually have a single trunk and grow three to nine feet (0.9 to 2.7 meters) tall before branching.

What is the Joshua Tree and what does it symbolize? ›

The Joshua tree symbolizes the strength and beauty that can arise from dysfunction. As Mom tells Jeannette, the tree's struggle is what gives the tree its beauty. This symbol can be applied to Jeannette's need to surmount incredible difficulties in the process of growing up.

Is 2 days in Joshua Tree enough? ›

You only need 1-2 days to explore most Joshua Tree National Park. The trails are pretty straightforward in this park, and the views are effortless to get to. Joshua Tree National Park is a very easy weekend trip from Los Angeles.

Why are people obsessed with Joshua tree? ›

And there's plenty to love about the prickly Joshua trees and the unique landscape they inhabit. The views are breathtaking, the wildlife is diverse, and the endangered nature of the Joshua trees means this destination is a must-visit for a variety of travelers.

Why is Joshua tree so dark? ›

Joshua Tree Has Dark Skies at Night

The reason it's so dark is because the park is located in the High Desert—3000-6000 feet above sea level—far from any major cities, which create light pollution. The east side of the park is best for stargazing.

What was Jesus's full name? ›

Jesus' name in Hebrew was “Yeshua” which translates to English as Joshua.

Why can't you cut down a Joshua tree? ›

For example, Joshua trees are a protected species under California state law, which means that it is illegal to harvest them except for scientific or educational purposes under a permit issued by the commissioner of the county in which the native plants are growing.

Is Joshua tree a sacred place? ›

Spiritual Energy In Joshua Tree National Park

Up here in the Californian desert is a place of spiritual significance to natives and locals of the land. They say that Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most powerful and energetic places on the planet.

What did Native Americans call Joshua tree? ›

Southern Paiute called the Joshua tree sovarampi. Cahuilla Indians referred to it as humwichawa and the Western Shoshone knew it simply as umpu. For thousands of years many Indian groups embraced the tree as a spiritual reference and valued resource.

Is The Joshua tree The tree of Life? ›

The Joshua tree, (yucca brevifolia), grows wild primarily in the Mojave Desert. It has adapted to reduced rainfall by spreading its roots in a dense, shallow network to collect as much surface moisture as possible.

What eats Joshua tree? ›

Its seeds are mostly spread by rodents like the white-tailed antelope squirrel, which hoard the seeds in caches [2].

Is Joshua Tree worth the hype? ›

Yes! Joshua Tree is one of the best national parks to see in only a day. In one day you can see the highlights of Joshua Tree, including Cholla Cactus Garden, Ryan Mountain, and sunset at Keys View.

When should you not go to Joshua Tree? ›

Summer is the least popular season in Joshua Tree due to the scorching hot daytime temperatures. This is the desert, after all, and daytime temps in June, July and August often top 100˚F (38˚C). This makes outdoor activities like hiking and rock climbing uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.

What is the best month to go to Joshua Tree? ›

The best and most popular months to visit Joshua Tree National Park are March-May and October/November. This is because the park can get hot (and I mean hot). In the summer months, temperatures can reach over 100° F with an extremely dry, desert heat and very little shade to escape to.

Does anyone live in Joshua tree? ›

Joshua Tree is a town in California with a population of 7,786. Joshua Tree is in San Bernardino County. Living in Joshua Tree offers residents a rural feel and most residents own their homes. Many young professionals and retirees live in Joshua Tree and residents tend to be conservative.

Is the Joshua tree rare? ›

They've been around since the Pleistocene era, which was about 2.5 million years ago! They're currently only found growing in the United States southwest (California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona) which makes them incredibly rare and special.

How long should you spend in Joshua tree? ›

Better, of course, is to allow two or three days. You can see all or most of the park's main roads, perhaps a few secondary roads, and take several short hikes. You can camp in the park and enjoy the sunset, star-filled sky, and the quiet of days. Click here for our advice about camping in Joshua Tree.

Is Joshua tree toxic? ›

Toxicity. As an ornamental plant, joshua Tree does not look edible, especially with those thick sword-like leaves. However, joshua Tree contains toxins saponins that are toxic to humans and animals, while in the roots mainly, toxins are hard to get into touch with.

Do Joshua trees actually move? ›

“The Joshua tree is pretty tough,” she said. “It is built to survive and persist through droughts. In the past, the species as a whole was able to migrate distances using its likely primary disperser, the Shasta ground sloth. Since this species is [now] extinct, the tree can no longer migrate great distances.

Do Joshua trees really move? ›

One study projected that 90 percent of their current habitat could be inhospitable by century's end. And so Joshua trees face the modern mandate familiar to so many species: move or die.

When was Jesus's real birthday? ›

The date of birth of Jesus is not stated in the gospels or in any historical sources but most biblical scholars assume a year of birth between 6 and 4 BC.

Who Wrote the Bible? ›

Even after nearly 2,000 years of its existence, and centuries of investigation by biblical scholars, we still don't know with certainty who wrote its various texts, when they were written or under what circumstances. READ MORE: The Bible Says Jesus Was Real.

What happens if you touch a Joshua tree? ›

But: touching Joshua trees is not illegal, in or out of a national park. And by itself, it's not damaging to the trees. Having thousands of people compressing the soil around a particularly photogenic and accessible tree so that they can each touch it might be a problem.

Is Joshua tree a dark zone? ›

Boasting some of the darkest nights in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park, an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), offers many visitors the chance to admire the Milky Way for the first time in their lives.

Why should you not touch a Joshua tree? ›

It's illegal.

Federal laws prohibit taking or damaging National Park wildlife and plants. Joshua trees also are a protected species under state law.

Where is the most spiritual place in the world? ›

Top 10: Spiritual Destinations
  • Varanasi, India.
  • Machu Picchu, Peru.
  • Kyoto, Japan.
  • Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
  • Jerusalem, Israel.
  • Uluru, Australia.
  • Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
  • Bhutan.
6 Feb 2018

What's the most spiritual place in America? ›

Top 4 Most Spiritual Places in the US
  • Joshua Tree, CA.
  • Cathedral Rock Hike, Sedona, AZ.
  • Devils Tower National Monument, WY.
  • Hiking in Mount Shasta, CA.
  • Secret view in Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
15 Nov 2020

Why is it called 29 Palms? ›

The area was then generally known as Palms Springs. Legend says that these gold miners first used the name of Twentynine Palms because of the 29 Washingtonia filifera palm trees surrounding the Oasis.

What do Mormons call Native American? ›

For Mormons, Native Americans—whom they termed “Lamanites”—represented an economic and religious opportunity. According to a prophecy in the original text of the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites were destined to become “white and delightsome” once they converted to Mormonism.

Are Joshua trees prehistoric? ›

Most of Joshua Tree's fossils date to the Pleistocene Epoch, from 11,700 years ago to 2.6 million years ago. This was a much wetter and cooler time.

How old do Joshua trees get? ›

It is difficult to date this huge plant because Joshuas don't form growth rings, but based on botanists' estimates from other big Yucca brevifolia specimens, the Desert Giant is probably 600 to 800 years old. At one time there were more ginormous Joshua trees, but many of them have fallen prey to human mistreatment.

Why is Jesus called the tree of life? ›

Jesus said that God's heavenly presence was arriving on Earth through him and his mission. And he often likened this to a huge tree, growing and spreading in surprising ways (Matthew 13:31-32). Jesus even claimed to be a tree of life, a vine that offers God's life to the world (John 15).

Are there a lot of snakes in Joshua tree? ›

Yes, there are snakes at Joshua Tree, and the venomous creatures you may encounter in Joshua Tree National Park include rattlesnakes, scorpions, and black widow spiders. In fact, there are seven types of rattlesnakes and 26 different types of snakes that can be found in or near the park.

What happens if you destroy a Joshua tree? ›

It is illegal to disturb, move, replant remove or kill western Joshua trees. Taking a western Joshua tree is a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to $4,100 in fines and six months in jail, according to Poston's news release. The CalTip hotline is run 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (888) 334-2258 and tip411.

Do scorpions live in Joshua trees? ›

Snakes and scorpions are also found in the park, especially after dark.

Are there bears in Joshua Tree National Park? ›

Joshua Tree: a rocky, alien, carefree, bear-free national park.

Why do people visit Joshua Tree California? ›

You can go hiking, bouldering/rock climbing, nature walking, stargazing, and experience some amazing photo opportunities. Plus, the small towns that neighbor Joshua Tree National Park are full of quirky art, great places to eat, and fun shops.

Are there mosquitoes in Joshua Tree? ›

Mosquitos are most active at dawn and dusk, the prime times for exploring Joshua Tree National Park in the summer. Long sleeves, a bandana, and pants are great anti-bug gear.

What is the darkest part of Joshua Tree? ›

The Ocotillo Patch: Located on Pinto Basin Road within the park, this is one of the darker areas for stargazing.

Is Joshua Tree Free at night? ›

If you're visiting Joshua Tree National Park to feast on the stars, we have good news for you — the park gates are open 24/7, and anyone can drive in or out of the park regardless of where they're staying.

Should I wear shorts to Joshua Tree? ›

For when you go hiking in Joshua Tree, it's best if you dress more practical than stylish. In the summer it gets really hot in the national park, therefore wear some shorts and a light t-shirt. A tank top or athleisure wear works well too.

Why is Joshua Tree so cool? ›

Joshua Trees are incredibly unusual-looking, in part because they're not actually a tree at all. They're a plant belonging to the Yucca genus that happens to resemble the size and growth pattern of a tree. Read on, to learn more about this interesting plant.

Can you do Joshua Tree in a few hours? ›

If planned ahead of time, it is possible to see most, if not all of these sights with just one day in Joshua Tree. It takes less than 2 hours to drive through the entire park from the West Entrance to the South Entrance and with just 5 stops I have faith you can do it.

Can you just drive through Joshua Tree? ›

Driving Park Boulevard can be a great way to see a lot of Joshua Tree National Park in a couple of hours. This drive can be combined with shorts side stops and hikes along the way for longer trips. Park Boulevard will take you by many highlights, rock formations, and Joshua tree groves.

What is spiritual about Joshua tree? ›

The Joshua tree and its ability to grow amongst harsh and unforgiving terrain have long been a symbol of faith for thriving amidst adversity. It is seen as a symbol of love, hope, and faith, that beauty and life can still flourish in the most challenging of times and environments.

Is Joshua tree worth the trip? ›

Joshua Tree is definitely worth the trip. From unique teddy bear cholla cactus to Joshua trees and boulders, Joshua Tree national park is incredibly diverse. This park has something that everyone will enjoy.

Is Joshua Tree for hippies? ›

Possibly one of the "hippiest" places in all of America; this California desert town is specifically known for its eclectic, peace-exuding qualities. According to a list put together by Thrillist, the best hippie town in California is Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree is truly a place for all hippies to gather.

Can you do Joshua Tree in a day? ›

With one day in Joshua Tree, you will easily be able to see most, if not all the main attractions. Joshua Tree is also a perfect place to take a day trip from Palm Springs, San Diego, Los Angeles, or even Las Vegas. Palms Springs is the closest major city to Joshua Tree which is about an hour away.

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